Dog’s Eye View: Why won’t my dog come when I call?
May 16, 2013
Steamboat Springs — One day while I was walking my dog at a neighborhood park, a dog came running up to us. He was totally full of himself, tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth, and his circling, wagging tail couldn't quite keep up with his stride. I could see by his body language that he was friendly and wanted to say, "Hi," but I have a small dog who is easily intimidated by large, slobbering wiggle warts.
I asked the guy walking him to please call his dog. And then the fight started. He yelled, and then he threatened, and when his dog finally came back, the owner clobbered him, jerked him and put him back on the leash. As they passed by, he apologized and said he just couldn't get his dog to come once he's distracted.
Sound familiar? Here's the short answer: He shouldn't be off-leash if he's not reliably coming back when called.
Having said that, here's a little help for this dilemma: Psychology professor at University of Utah Susan Freidman said, "If you want 100 percent compliance, then you'd better be prepared to reinforce it 100 percent of the time."
I totally agree with this. A reliable recall takes hundreds of successful repetitions. Success is built through reinforcement of the behavior you are training. Even though my dog is 7 years old, we practice recalls on every walk, and I use high-value reinforcers. I want to be able to trump the environment when the time comes. Remember: You get out what you put in. Just because your dog comes to you reliably in the house and yard does not mean it will be reliable in all environments. This takes practice, lots and lots of successful practice.
Here's another key point: When your dog finally shows up after you've repeatedly called and you punish him, you've just made things worse. He will be less likely to comply next time.
One place to destroy a recall is at the dog park. Typically, people turn the dog loose, then visit with other people until it's time to go. Calling your dog out of play and ending all the fun makes you the fun police. After all that fun being a dog, you just want him to stop? Are you kidding? This is another important reason your dog will not come when called. He knows the party is over. It's just like being a kid who is told to stop in the middle of a very cool video game. "Stop now? I can't believe you asked me that!"
If you take the time to practice your recalls in the backyard using high-value food rewards prior to going to the dog park, you've just increased your chances for compliance. And if you turn your dog loose and immediately call him back, reward him with high-value treats and then say, "Go play." This means he will be more likely to stop what he's doing and return to you again. You can become a key player at the dog park, not just the fun police.
Build a solid investment in the behavior you want. That takes time, consistent training and reinforcement. Training time with your dog should be fun and rewarding for both of you.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training in Northwest Colorado.